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Virginia Administrative Code
Title 4. Conservation and Natural Resources
Agency 20. Marine Resources Commission
Chapter 1030. Management Plan for the Ungranted State Lands in Accomack and Northampton Counties
4/7/2020

4VAC20-1030-20. Description of Ungranted State Lands.

A. Location and boundaries. This management plan covers 28,507 acres of ungranted state lands on Virginia's Eastern Shore. 27,722 acres are located on the seaside between the barrier islands and the mainland. 785 acres are located on the bayside. Although most of these lands are marsh, there are some uplands and fringe marsh included in the acreage identified as being state owned. The state lands covered by this plan have been surveyed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) which produced a series of maps depicting the state lands. The maps have been recorded in the clerks' offices of Accomack and Northampton Counties and can be found at the Accomack County Courthouse in Accomac and at the Northampton County Courthouse in Eastville.

B. Surrounding demographic features.

1. Northampton County. Northampton County is located on the southern half of the Delmarva Peninsula in Virginia, known as Virginia's Eastern Shore. The southern tip of the Eastern Shore is connected to the Virginia mainland by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

Northampton County is approximately 35 miles in length with an average width of six miles. The county extends from the Accomack County line in the north to Fisherman Island at the southern tip of the peninsula. The county encompasses about 360 square miles or 229,947 acres of land, tidal marshes, bayside creeks and barrier islands.

More than half of the total acres in Northampton County are marshes, bayside creeks, and barrier islands. Twenty-five percent of the land is in agricultural and forest use. Only 3.0% of the land is developed for residential and commercial use. The remaining portion is undeveloped.

Northampton County is governed by a Board of Supervisors. The county seat is in Eastville. According to statistics published in the 1990 census, the population of Northampton County is 13,061. The county is predominantly rural with occasional small residential centers. The basis of the economy is agriculture and seafood. The main occupations are in retail trade; the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries; manufacturing; construction; tourism; and health/education services.

2. Accomack County. Accomack County is located on the northern half of Virginia's Eastern Shore. Accomack County is approximately 45 miles long with an average width of 15 miles. The county stretches from the Northampton County line at the south to the Maryland state line at the north, and out to Tangier and Smith Islands in the Chesapeake Bay.

Accomack County encompasses approximately 476 square miles, or 300,649 acres of mainland, marsh and barrier islands. Sixty-six percent of the mainland is in agricultural and forest use. Twenty-three percent of the land is tidal marshes and barrier islands, and the remaining 11% is developed for residential and commercial use.

Accomack County is governed by a Board of Supervisors. The county seat is in Accomac. According to statistics published in the 1990 census, the population of Accomack County is 31,703. The main occupations are in retail trade; manufacturing; health/education; tourism; and the agriculture, farming and fishing industries.

C. Climate. The climate of the Eastern Shore is coastal with mild winters and warm, humid summers.

D. Land use.

1. Historic uses. The ungranted state lands covered by this management plan have historically been open to the public for traditional subsistence and recreational uses. Open access to beaches, marshes and meadowlands has been allowed in the past for recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, fowling, trapping, camping, salvaging, and egging. In addition, commercial harvest of fowl, furbearers, finfish, shellfish, and terrapin has been allowed historically subject to state and federal regulations and, for personal and family use, by local citizens for centuries. These rights are intrinsic to the commons concept recognized in Virginia statutes and such uses are supported by historical precedent and general usage.

2. Current uses. Ungranted state lands are currently used for recreational and commercial activities, subject to state and federal regulations. It should be noted that certain historical uses, such as egging, are no longer permissible under current legislation. This plan does not change existing laws and regulations concerning recreational and commercial activities or other traditional uses of the ungranted state lands. If it is, however, found that these activities threaten the natural integrity of these lands, it may be necessary to revise existing laws and regulations or to establish new guidelines or policies. Such changes would be in accordance with established procedures.

3. Surrounding land holdings.

a. Accomack County. The land surrounding the ungranted state lands in Accomack County fall into two categories of the Accomack zoning ordinance: (i) the agriculture district which covers portions of the county occupied by various open uses such as marsh lands, beaches, forests, parks and farms; and (ii) the Barrier Island District. In addition, Accomack County has a wetlands ordinance and a Chesapeake Bay preservation ordinance which overlay the zoning ordinance. Any development in these zoning districts is subject to the restrictions and regulations of the Accomack zoning ordinance. The county's future land use plans are detailed in the Accomack Comprehensive Plan, Section 5.

b. Northampton County. The land surrounding the ungranted state lands in Northampton County is currently zoned as an agriculture/residential district. There are, however, several ordinances that overlay the agriculture district. These are the Chesapeake Bay/Atlantic Ocean Preservation Area, the wetlands ordinance, and the primary sand dune ordinance. The future land use plan for Northampton County is detailed in Part II of the Northampton Comprehensive Plan.

4. The Nature Conservancy land holdings. The Nature Conservancy, a private, nonprofit conservation organization, owns and manages 14 islands, saltmarsh tracts, and adjacent mainland sites totaling 40,000 acres on Virginia's Eastern Shore. This area is called the Virginia Coast Reserve, and it has been designated a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its Man and the Biosphere Programme, recognizing it as one of the world's most important ecosystems. The Nature Conservancy is working to protect significant ecological values on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

5. Federal land holdings. The federal government has extensive holdings on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the National Wildlife Refuge System for the protection and conservation of fish and wildlife including those threatened with extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has two offices, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, that manage the federal holdings on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The federal holdings are:

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge:

Assateague—9,459 acres

Chincoteague—550 acres

Morris Island—427 acres

Assawoman Island—1,434 acres

Metomkin Island—174 acres

Cedar Island—1,250 acres

Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge—752 acres

Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge—1,825 acres

Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge—3,376 acres (3,000 acres owned by NASA)

6. State land holdings. In addition to the ungranted state lands covered by this management plan, the Commonwealth of Virginia owns lands designated as natural areas and state parks on the Eastern Shore. These are:

Wreck and Bone Island—a natural area preserve managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation—1,380 acres

Parker's Marsh—a natural area managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation—750 acres

Kiptopeke State Park—managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of State Parks—375 acres

Mockhorn Island—a wildlife management area managed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries—7,642 acres

Saxis Marsh—a wildlife management area managed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries—5,574.34 acres

7. Local land holdings.

Raccoon Park—located in Northampton County—60 acres

Statutory Authority

§§ 28.2-103 and 28.2-1504 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Volume 15, Issue 15, eff. March 15, 1999.

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